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Urban Diplomat: I’m sorry that I spilled my latte on my co-worker, but do I really have to pay this $50 dry cleaning bill?

Dear Urban Diplomat, I was crammed onto the subway with my co-worker the other morning, and I accidentally bumped his latte with my elbow, spilling it all over his cashmere coat. I apologized, bought him a replacement beverage, and thought that would be the end of it. Three days later, however, I was stunned to find a $50 dry cleaning bill on my desk. I don’t think I should have to foot the bill when he’s the one who brought a brimming latte onto the subway during the morning rush hour. Should I pay or should I refuse? —All Elbows, MIMICO

My knee-jerk reaction? Respond in kind. Buy your non-confrontational fraidy cat of a colleague a cheap plastic poncho like you’d get on the Maid of the Mist. Leave it on his desk with a note stating that since his latte habit clearly isn’t compatible with cashmere and a busy subway, you hope this saves him on future dry cleaning costs.

The more mature solution? Pay the bill. I know, I know, the car was packed, and in that sardine-tin environment, with bodies jostling about, it’s hard to assign blame to any one elbow (it’s like a nightclub—a tedious, underfunded nightclub). Culpability aside, reimbursing your co-worker is the classy thing to do. Sure, if the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t be so petty, and you certainly wouldn’t just leave the bill on his desk like a passive-aggressive roommate collecting for the hydro bill. However, you would still appreciate him at least offering to pay for the mess, wouldn’t you?

So toss a Mackenzie King his way, even if the acquaintanceship isn’t worth $50. It’s a small price to pay to avoid the workplace awkwardness that would otherwise ensue. The next time your elbows conspire to sully someone else’s threads, offer up the cash first. Your willingness and concern alone will probably defuse the situation, and there’s a good chance the spillee will refuse your ever-so-generous overture.

Send your questions to the Urban Diplomat at urbandiplomat@torontolife.com

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